Stu­dents ver­sus masters: Rap­tors ready for War­riors

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - SPORTS - JOHN CHI­D­LEY-HILL

TORONTO — If the Rap­tors’ rout of the ri­val Cleve­land Cava­liers was a clash of styles, then their game Satur­day against the vis­it­ing Golden State War­riors will be more like the stu­dents tak­ing on the masters.

Fred VanVleet and the Rap­tors bench ran LeBron James and the Cava­liers off the court on Thurs­day night, play­ing hard on tran­si­tion and mov­ing the ball rapidly to get open three-point shots. It was lethal against a Cleve­land team that prefers to set up plays in the half­court.

But it will be an­other story against the War­riors, who pi­o­neered the run-and-gun style and used it to beat the Cavs in last year’s NBA Fi­nals.

“Com­pletely dif­fer­ent, com­pletely dif­fer­ent dy­namic of the game,” said DeMar DeRozan on Fri­day when com­par­ing the Cava­liers and War­riors. “Two dif­fer­ent styles that they play with.”

VanVleet had a ca­reer-high 22 points, in­clud­ing 6-of-8 from three­p­oint range, as Toronto went 18-of42 from be­yond the arc to torch Cleve­land 133-99. The Cavs shot 6-of-26 on three-point­ers in the loss.

“Play­ing with a lot of speed, man,” said VanVleet of the win over Cleve­land. “We got stops, we were able to get out in tran­si­tion and then the threes started fall­ing some­where in the sec­ond quar­ter. We just played with in­cred­i­ble speed and en­ergy.”

By con­trast, the War­riors lead the league in scor­ing (115.7 points per game) and three-point shoot­ing (39 per cent).

“The way Golden State moves the ball, I mean, Cleve­land moves the ball well but Golden State is dif­fer­ent,” said DeRozan. “You’ve got Steph Curry, Klay Thomp­son and Kevin Du­rant, ar­guably some of the best shoot­ers in the game to­day. That changes the whole dy­namic.”

Fast tran­si­tions, three-point shoot­ing and rapidly switch­ing on de­fence are hall­marks of a Golden State team that has gone to the NBA Fi­nals three straight years and won the ti­tle twice. Toronto re­lied on the back­court tan­dem of DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to make the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal in 2016 and the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nal in 2017, los­ing to Cleve­land both times.

But Rap­tors gen­eral man­ager Ma­sai Ujiri made some tweaks to his ros­ter in the off-sea­son, mak­ing the team younger and faster, with head coach Dwane Casey im­ple­ment­ing an up­tempo style much like the War­riors. Al­though they have yet to master it like Golden State, Toronto’s 2911 record is a fran­chise best at the 40-game mark of a sea­son.

Toronto lost to Golden State 117112 in Oak­land, Calif., on Oct. 25, just the fourth game of the sea­son for the Rap­tors. DeRozan said on Fri­day it’s a game Toronto could have won, point­ing out that they had a lead with less than two min­utes re­main­ing, and said the Rap­tors have grown within their new sys­tem since.

“We’ve been learn­ing it, ap­pre­ci­at­ing it, un­der­stand­ing it, since Day 1 of train­ing camp,” said DeRozan on the court of the Bios­teel Cen­tre, the Rap­tors’ prac­tice fa­cil­ity. “It’s just been a process of us learn­ing a right rhythm, find­ing a com­fort within it. We’re still get­ting bet­ter at it. Ev­ery sin­gle time we come in here to prac­tise.”

Lowry is still a game-time de­ci­sion for Satur­day night af­ter miss­ing the past two games with a bruised tail­bone. He’s av­er­ag­ing 16.2 points, seven as­sists and 6.1 re­bounds per game. For­ward Serge Ibaka will re­turn for Toronto af­ter serv­ing a onegame sus­pen­sion for fight­ing Mi­ami’s James John­son.


Rap­tors DeMar DeRozan, left, and Fred VanVleet re­act on the bench dur­ing Toronto’s 133-99 win over the Cleve­land Cava­liers on Thurs­day. Toronto faces the Golden State War­riors on Satur­day.

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